Are You A Change Agent or Corporate Savior?

Albert Camus famously wrote, "Messianism is the basis of all fanaticism". The belief that an omnipotent being or presence is going to save us at some point has wreaked havoc with personal responsibility for ages--and it's present in  business too.

You've heard of change agents, of course?  Those business people whose job consists of exerting new levels of control, reallocating resources and providing sometimes unwelcome influence in organizations that are pivoting into new territory or are in bad shape. Change agents are not messiahs, they are catalysts.  I am one, so this is an insider's view on what's wrong with the paradigm, and why I am considering leaving the business entirely because frankly there are too many change agents out there. 

Over the course of the last fifteen years as a strategic consultant, I have become sort of the "go-to" guy for these kinds of gigs. I have worked across several industries and seen and heard everything from, "We just need to update our thinking" to "Can you save my business?".  When the CEO or Managing Partners are ready--it is truly some of the most rewarding work I have ever had the pleasure of doing. But when management isn't aligned on purpose--it can be exhausting, costly and downright depressing. 

I have improved bottom lines almost always--yes, I hired good people, and fired some too, sure. But I have never actually saved anyone's company. This is for the obvious reason that I am change agent. My job is to change things.  I am not a corporate messiah, nor do I wish to be. I cannot save anyone. I cannot waive my hand and heal a dysfunctional workplace no matter how slim my lap-top is or how slick my powerpoint presentations are. No matter what anyone tells you, one person cannot absorb your company's policies and the nuances of your culture in two weeks. Change agents cannot read minds.  Change agents do not have a library of  HBR's finest points of strategy on a tiny nano-drive the size of a needle-head embedded in their neck. Change agents are human beings. 

 "Some seeds will fall on barren rock." Mark 4:5
First, thou hypocrite, cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the splinter out of thy brother's eye. Mark 7:5 

I have a very bright friend who reminds me constantly that business is about forwarding your own agenda, while keeping in mind the big agenda, and the agenda of the person responsible for running the place and tracking everyone else's agenda. She is serious. Change agents, by definition are threats to the system of power and relationships in the organization--which is exactly why many prefer to ignore politics altogether and talk truth which always has consequences. You can get ahead of this one by simple watching out for the following during initial meetings.  If you hear any of these gems, maybe think twice about the gig. Beware those in need most. You are not the Good Samaritan. 

"We need a real leader in there, someone who can get in there and get their hands dirty, somebody who speaks their mind."
"The strategic methodologies developed at the global level are not working at the local level." 
I need you to get in here asap.  I have been waiting for you--you are perfect for this. 
"Get in there and show them what you can do--push for change." 

These are all verbatim quotes from actual clients of mine.

The problem is that none of these particular clients were prepared to eschewverbiage for action. When it comes to change initiatives, you may think you are going to be smartest person in the room. You are not. The person who successfully avoided taking on what you just signed up to do is. Change is never attractive. By speaking the truth no matter how truthful, you are initiating something  that has to date been ignored or hasn't worked. You are going to step on toes, so be prepared to polish you own shoes every night.

If you actually working for the same organization you are supposed to be the change agent of, then you are not a change agent-you are most likely part of theproblem. I can assure you that there are insular, political and powerful forces working in the organizational structure whose sole purpose is to resist you and forward their own agenda.  However, you can follow these pieces of advice and avoid lots of problems. 

 There are no Corporate Messiahs or quick fixes. 

Define your role and then insist on what it requires. You cannot save the world, or the company, but you can save yourself. Make sure they do not expect you to work alone to change an entire organization. 

Pray much and frequently.  I'm not joking either. 

Insist on daily, weekly, and monthly strategic and advisory meetings with the rest of the management staff.  Keep a level head, don't drink and get a lot of rest. 

Honor thine contract. 

Write and discuss expectations specifically. Be sure that it's realistic and get everything in writing, most especially what happens when things go wrong-because it's likely they will. 

Thou shalt not allow the company to covet thine free time.  

Manage your time or it will manage you.  You will end up in the place until 2 am with the laggards who are bringing the place down already. Set your schedule.  

Be Thy Self and Kicketh Much Ass 

This one may surprise you because it is totally counter-intuitive. Show up for the show or don't go. Be yourself, speak your mind. I don't think the developers in Dubai, Shanghai and KL are worried about "cultural nuance" much as they've created some of the ugliest, over-developed cities in Asia. So with this in mind, ignore the petty avarice of lots of,  "Oh terribly sorry" bowing and endless tea-pouring. Just kick-ass, period. You are there to be shepherd, not sheep. Bring shears because people will need their woolen coats shorn when you turn the heat up on bullshit. 

Thou Shalt Not Lie

Even when confronted with vapid stupidity, confront your superiors with ass-breaking, embarrassing candor --that's why they hired you. All organizational change starts with the truth. And before that happens, people have to acknowledge what is required.  You cannot back down.  The challenge of course is choosing when to speak up and selecting the right verbiage and all of that, but don't worry so much about  how you maintain relationships--worry how you can effect needed change.

There is a very serious caveat, you will most likely lose your job. 

In the end, it is people like me, not the executives way up on the 13th floor, (with all due respect to people on the 13th floor) who are at very high risk. I am where the rubber meets the road.  The so-called thought-leaders and bedraggled change-agents who are willing to walk their talk, and walk out the door, if they are not shown it first. It happens.

For some tips on how to lead change responsibly, read here.

~

If you are looking for a Managing Director, Chief Strategist, CMO, Chief Digital Officer or you just want to chat, you can email me at louisd@bigthinker.com.  

Louis D. LoPraeste possesses over a decade of consulting experience with a focus on developing sound strategic practices and operational turnaround. He advises a wide range of clients internally on structural problem-solving, team building, work flows and processes. He is a dynamic leader who leverages macroeconomics to understand emerging markets, particularly in providing behavioral consumer insights and analyses. He is also a proficient integrated media and holistic brand specialist proficient in utilizing social listening, and applied analytics. 

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